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The artful equivocation of William Golding's The Double Tongue

by J.H. Stape

 

I practise a craft I do not understand and cannot describe.

 

Golding, "Belief and Creativity" (195)

 

William Golding's last novel, The Double Tongue, was left "unfinished" at his death in the summer of 1993. Its publishers reassure the reader that it survives as a draft neither so incomplete as to be a mere fragment nor, on the other hand, as polished as Golding would undoubtedly have wished it to be had he lived to revise it. (1) Not surprisingly, and even in light of the prevailing postmodernist hostility to notions of finality, reviewers displayed considerable anxiety about the novel's "completeness" and authority. One suggested that it lacked "both the absolute verbal precision and slight tendency to overwriting that characterise much of his work" (Kaveney). Another remarked that one result of the lack of revision was that "some of it--notably the last pages--seems rather rushed" (Hensher). Refusing to take the hesitantly phrased "Publisher's Note" at face value, another reviewer more bluntly, and somewhat unfairly, observed that "One of the perks--or plagues--of being a Nobel Prize winner is that your h eirs get to publish whatever they find on your desk" (McCullagh). The tepid reception for Golding's last work was of a piece with the increasingly ambivalent assessments of his oeuvre that had set in with the publication of Darkness Visible (1979), and critics repeated some of the reservations expressed about his writing when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.

 

Whatever its incompleteness and failures, The Double Tongue has a signal place in Golding's canon as his final statement about a number of issues that had concerned him throughout his career. It is at once an implicit defense of the aims and methods of his writing, an assessment of his own achievement, and by the choice of setting and plot, an act of homage to his muse--an admittedly unfashionable term--toward the close of his creative life. It also gives fictional expression to the sense of mystery that he felt was an ineluctable part of the creative process: "The heart of our experience [that of the novelist] is not unlike that of the poet at his height. There is a mystery about both trades-a mystery in every sense of that ancient word" ("Belief and Creativity" 192). Like The Paper Men (1984), the novel is also a response to his critics. Dependent for the continued life of his work on their curatorship, Golding resents the inherent possibility of misinterpretation and misrepresentation of his ideas. He con cedes, however, that, much as he may dislike this state of affairs, he can exert only limited control over it, a more optimistic stance than that taken in The Paper Men where despite Wilf Barclay's heroic efforts to maintain his independence and identity he ultimately perishes at the hands of the vulgar and vulgarizing biographer-critic, Professor Rick L. Tucker.

 The Double Tongue continues Golding's exploration of trends in contemporary fiction, relying, like The Paper Men, on postmodernist gesture to probe current notions of textual control and finality. But whereas Golding uses a contemporary setting to explore these issues in The Paper Men, The Double Tongue is, to use Northrop Frye's term, "displaced," a fact that comprises part of its postmodernist gesturing as its distinctly twentieth- century concerns at times deliberately collide against its historical setting. At the same time, while both novels variously play with indeterminacy and end in compromised finality--in The Paper Men the narrator's death in midsentence, in The Double Tongue in a belief posited in incertitude--Golding yearns for absolutes.

The novel is, moreover, clearly what Millgate calls a testamentary act, (2) with the octogenarian writer cocking a final snook at impercipient critics as well as at the legion of readers, in particular schoolteachers, who had badgered him about what exactly he had "meant" in Lord of the Flies. Brute circumstance has also made The Double Tongue a prime exemplar of a socialized text (McGann 115), the result of collaboration, whether willed or not, between the writer and the individuals responsible for seeing his or her work into print. It thus manifestly enjoys dual authority in embodying both authorial and editorial intentions, and is an equivocal product both by design and default.

 Set principally in Delphi in the first century BC, (3) the novel is superficially concerned with a doomed attempt to reinvigorate Hellenic culture in the face of the Roman political and cultural onslaught, moving toward a pessimistic conclusion with Greek values and Greek religious practices doomed to disappear before the coming order. From another point of view, however, it has a "happy ending," since the conclusion promises the continuation of Greek culture under new guises. But The Double Tongue is no more "about" the eclipse of the Greek world than Pincher Martin was "about" the Second World War. Rather, it meditates on the nature of the writer and writing or, more broadly, on the varied facets of creativity, returning to a theme that is dealt with in much of Golding's late fiction. (4) The novel is an elaborately crafted allegory about the elusive and ultimately mysterious sources of the creative act, the artist's only partial and intermittent control over these, the instability of texts and textuality, and the role of the critic as a mediator between author and audience. The thematic territory resembles that of The Paper Men, where Golding--making various postmodernist gestures, considers the fate of the writer in the hands of the critic and vice versa--but it goes much further in its exploration of the creative impulse.

Setting The Double Tongue in Greece in the first century BC is at once playful and purposeful, and the seriocomic presentation of the dilemmas facing the sacred and the political under Roman occupation barely conceals Golding's concern with the social identity of the late--twentieth--century writer and the crises of contemporary fiction. Delphi's decline--its marginalization by the demotic temper of the times--parallels the decline of so--called "serious" fiction and "high" art at the close of the twentieth century. The central subject is, thus, finally and ambitiously, no less than the imagination itself, and the novel is a quintessentially romantic project resembling, not in its scope but in some of its intensity of focus and autobiographical character, the inquiry pursued by Wordsworth in The Prelude or Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In this light. The Double Tongue serves as the closing installment of Golding's own long-running intellectual and spiritual autobiography, with Arieka, the lite ralist 80-year-old Pythia, and lonides Peisistrades, the witty and cynical high priest of Apollo, as personae for their creator through which he explores his anxieties and hopes about the nature, value, and sociopolitical status of art in our time.

  

The ironies of speaking through a woman and a homosexual priest can hardly have been lost on Golding. Remote from his own image as a masculinist writer, these personae, while liberating his imagination, meaningfully harken back to antique notions of the fundamentally androgynous nature of creativity. (5) Through Arieka and Ionides, Golding articulates and confirms his sense of his social and artistic identity and responds to the demands traditionally made on Nobel laureates to proclaim on social and artistic issues of moment. But to avoid overseriousness on the one hand and crude self-revelation on the other, the deeply personal aspects of Golding's insights are variously displaced and couched in an extended discourse about the fraudulent and truthful. Golding stresses through his principal characters and chosen setting that art is a conjuring trick that on occasion plunges the artist into ecstasis and touches truth itself, although at times it involves sheer hard slogging and may sometimes be mere trickery.

 The debate of the greater part of the novel is between skepticism about art and belief in it, the respective positions of Ionides and Arieka. It concludes in a reversal of position--the typical twist that comes at the end of many a Golding novel, most notably perhaps in Pincher Martin and The Paper Men--as the atheist priest turns to a belief in the gods and their power, while the Pythia, closer to the sources of revelation, moves toward agnosticism, taking up in wise old age a position of "unknowing." St. Paul to the contrary, this is no mere superstitious hedging of bets but a wise counsel. (6)

The novel's formal procedures mirror this shuffling off of old ways, the theme of self-liberation finding a textual corollary in a subversive formal heterogeneity that includes a dog's breakfast of literary genres and techniques including allegory, tract, autobiography, history, and the Kunstlerroman. As Bernard F. Dick has commented, Golding "approaches plot poetically, beginning with an idea, an image, or a myth" (97), and his observation is particularly pertinent here. The generic diversity of The Double Tongue, as well as its wry humor and self-reflexive gestures, serve in the end to present a remarkably nuanced vision of the nature and function of the artistic vocation. Complaints about its flaws as a historical novel, about "silly slips," about a need "to get the history right" (Green 12), and its "occasional anachronisms" and "minor mistakes" (Lefkowitz) are nigglingly irrelevant to Golding's thematic interests and generic ambitions. (7) The novel's historical setting has obvious symbolic functions, b ut it doesn't pretend to be a historical novel. The psychology and humor of its principal characters is, moreover, consciously modern in order to give a texture of duplicity or doubleness to the fictional enterprise: it moves in and out of its period to enrich and facilitate the treatment of its ideas. (A useful contrast is Marguerite Yourcenar's painstakingly researched novel Memoirs of Hadrian, set in first-century Rome, which remains scrupulously "in period.")

 

Duality and doubling, thesis and antithesis predictably structure this novel. As Donald W Crompton comments, "People with him are nearly always two, and usually Golding explores the dichotomy in a characteristic and easily recognisable way" (208). The oppositional structure serves him particularly well here, however, both in fostering thematic clarity and in grounding the novel in Greek philosophical traditions. Arieka and Lonides as dual figures--she the virgin whore of Apollo with, according to the First Lady, "much boy" in her (53), and he the man-woman-are together a psychologically unified whole that recalls Plato's myth of original hermaphroditism. (8) Physically separate, they "complete" one another psychologically, forming an interdependent unit, she as artist and he as critic-interpreter, a "more than a husband" (162), who acts as guide to and caretaker of the mysteries.

 

Duality and separateness are announced in the novel's first two tongue-tied paragraphs that ambiguously contrast Arieka's effortfully willed recollection of what appears to be her first memory of divine afflatus (or is it merely her birth?) with the spontaneous, and ironically more focused, memory of childhood incontinence. Her duality as both an ordinary human being and the chosen instrument of the Apollo, the victim of a passion she experiences but fails to comprehend, revisits the situations of Matty in Darkness Visible and the Rev. Mr. James Robert Colley, the violated homosexual priest in Rites of Passage. Matty, who humbly suffers visitations of beings from another world and is innocently drawn into a bizarrely conceived and ultimately bungled plot for political change, is in some ways redrawn in Arieka, an artist-figure largely oblivious to political intrigue and machination, who only gradually comes to realize that she is not at their periphery but at their very center. Colley, while seemingly unawar e of his political position, suffers class alienation and also shares Arieka's status as spokesperson for the divine in a world increasingly indifferent to it (a corollary to its indifference to the "higher" forms of art). Radical innocence functions in all three cases to demonstrate how art and politics are inevitably intertwined. The poet as a dealer in fictions is, for Plato, an inherent threat to the state; but here even more overtly than in his earlier writings, Golding loudly objects to the poet's banishment by situating the imagination at the center of the state apparatus.

 

For Ionides this centrality remains more wished for than actualized, and marginality lies at the core of the novel, both in its major characters and its setting. By the first century BC, Greece had fallen into decline, lost its outlying territories, and been assimilated into the Roman Empire. (This parallels the status of contemporary Britain or, more widely, Europe, the mother culture in its dotage, cowed by the rude vigor and canny business acumen of the United States, the new Rome.) Delphi itself is symbolically dual and peripheral: neglected part of the year, geographically isolated, literally Olympian, a sanctum sanctorum cut off and served by a perpetually violated virgin, it nonetheless remained at the center of national ritual and religious practice. Its very livelihood depended on a savvy awareness of realpolitik, the judiciously phrased answers delivered by the Pythia being based on an awareness of power politics. On the other hand, Ionides' unfortunate attempts to mingle art with politics too direc tly--to place carefully crafted "illusion" into the service of hard "reality" by entangling Delphi in an ill-conceived conspiracy against Roman rule--is a cautionary tale. The god must be seen to be detached from the political arena, intervening, if at all, only indirectly, to ensure his ultimate effectiveness. In short, as Golding would have it, art is at once far removed from day-to-day politics, although also deeply enmeshed in them, "meditating between the physical universe and the spiritual cosmos" (70).

 

As an allegory about the role of art and the artist in society, The Double Tongue is appropriately nostalgic, longing for its far-distant generic origins in myth and the sacred, and recalling the sacred status of the word. Arieka's autobiographical narrative's essential retrospectivity of impulse is Golding's response to the disintegrative pressures of modernity, even formally so in its recourse to the confessional mode of St. Augustine.

 

His protest involves, however, no retreat into a mythical golden age and sternly rejects any hints of aestheticism. At the same time, the narrative's metaphors harken back to the high modernist artist parable with its artist-priests and aristocratic sense of the epiphanic moment, conveniently, if somewhat headily, summarized in Northrop Frye's catalogue: "Rimbaud's illumination, Joyce's epiphany, the Augenblick of modern German thought, and the kind of non-didactic revelation implied in such terms as symbolisme or imagism" (61). The perpetually refrained question at the heart of this experience, whatever name it goes by, is one of control: does the artist exert control over his or her materials, or do they in some wise take control of their maker? Golding replies in an appropriately Delphic mode that allows him to have it both ways: although Arieka is compelled, undergoing rape and having her mouth "torn" by the god, she learns to give shape and form to his words and her experience in the antique manner, skil lfully adopting hexameter to impress her audience and bring the crowds back to Delphi. The charlatan/conjurer unstably coexists with the genuine article.

 

The question of control is also at the center of the fraught relationship between art and politics. Ionides, as it turns out, is a fumbler in a game of uneven odds, and his ruses and subterfuges, well employed in his role as charlatan priest, fail him entirely in the political arena, since Rome not only controls the sources of knowledge but also possesses a will to power that Greece now lacks. In the end, so goes the argument of the parvenu Corinthian businessman whose generosity provides needed repairs to the Pythion, Greece is hedged in by Rome for its own good, purchasing peace and order at the price of a dignity well lost or not worth having. In this sense, control is achieved by a loss of control, an ambiguity that finds its most complete expression in the image of Arieka in her role as Pythia, mounted upon the tripod, under the god's influence, intoxicated by the burning laurel leaves, and speaking doubly, both in the sense of her pronouncements being cryptic and equivocal and in the sense that her wor ds are either interpreted or directly quoted by lonides. Fully engaged in her role as Pythia, Arieka descends in order to rise upon the tripod, positioned at the nexus point that is a working out of Golding's view of his own position as a writer: "I'm neither a philosopher nor a psychologist, I'm a story-teller. I really am a rhapsodist" (qtd. in Haffenden 113).

 

Ionides' attempt to overthrow Greece's overlords is, of course, also visionary and "inspired," a bid to influence the future directly and concretely; he goes beyond the mere foretelling of it to intervene directly. As the reification of an ideal, this has the flaws inherent in all such projects: ideals are ever doomed to partial or imperfect embodiment in the "real world." As it turns out, Ionides' project achieves fulfillment only in his imagination, being too little grounded in fact even to reach a stage of disillusionment. His ineffective meddling to reimpose Delphi as the center of world power partakes of a certain nostalgia; his true aim, not even wholly clear to himself, is to displace the businessmen and politicians and to reinstate the visionary as the pivot of society.

 

His case is an exemplary one, a warning that the time for the visionary has passed and that the future belongs not to the seer or priest, once the very center of social organization, but to the practical men of the party of reality, the self-controlled Romans and their supporters. As the Propraetor Lucius Galba puts it, Ionides and his like must strictly confine themselves "to [their] religious duties" (146). The message is ambiguous in context, however, for Golding has by this point shown that these "duties" are at least to some degree inherently political. They are not so in the concrete and narrow way in which Ionides conceives them but in the wider sense that religion--a code word for art throughout--plays a dual role in confirming the status of things as they are while ever envisioning an ideal. Ionides' plan, then, is not simply misdirected but wholly misconceived. Its failure is not a recommendation to the writer to indulge in aestheticist retreat so much as a counsel about the proper assessment of th e social utility of his or her role. His failure, on the other hand, is a firm warning against programmatic art and propaganda, such art being too much at the service of the state, and, ultimately, not art at all, but only calculated effect.

 

Golding strikes this cautionary note early in the novel in the scene in which Ionides and Arieka together tour the book room appended to the Pythion, its symbolic soul and mind, with its poetry and prose finding expression through the Pythia, who must school herself in them. At this point Ionides, already enmeshed in his political ambitions, scornfully orders Perseus, the librarian-slave devoted to the book room and a willing drudge to the labors of interpretation and conservation, "Go back to your books about books about books! We'll be content with the makers (48). Golding's critique of the critic is, in the event, double-edged, as so much is in this novel. Without Perseus slaving away, the book room would eventually fall into disrepair and the oracle lose not only its inner being but also the record of its past. Indeed, when the rotten roof of the book room finally collapses, Ionides opts not to repair it but to mend the hail of the Pythia first, his choice characteristically by this point lighting on the practical and near at hand rather than on the imagination. In making it, he abandons his priesthood to serve worldly rather than spiritual ends, fatally meddling in the affairs of the world. Even his injunction to Arieka that she master the intricacies of hexameter is calculated not for the pleasures of poetry but for a practical and proximate political end. He thus tellingly misses the point when he later reminds her of "the power of the hexameter" (153)--Golding's synecdoche for the power of art--implying that this "power" operates exclusively in the practical sphere in bringing much-needed cash to Delphi. "The power of the hexameter" is, however, dual in that beauty can both transform reality and compel admiration for itself alone. Having thus abandoned his role as the mediator of art in trying to become a "maker" himself, Ionides' comeuppance seems foreordained. Defeated by the Romans, who control the sources of political knowledge in the colony they have taken in hand--for its own good from Arieka's con servative viewpoint--he loses his priestly and personal dignity, not to undergo Lear-like suffering but simply to dwindle, his eventual and harrowing fate being "silliness without any wisdom in it" (164). His most miserable failure of all, however, is not in the political arena but the failure to attain self-knowledge, the directive set upon Delphi's very gates. He no less miscarries with respect to its other directive: "avoid extremes."

 

In abusing his artistic talent and succumbing to the temptation to influence the material world, Ionides foregoes insight and discovery in the inner world. Golding's evident sympathy for his wayward priest, however, deflects the reader's desire to condemn him. Given the circumstances, neither Ionides' nationalistic ambition to revive Hellenic culture nor his means are in themselves ignoble, but mistaking himself and the means he has to hand, he becomes an overreacher, suffering from hubris and doomed not to know himself. The portrait cuts close to the bone: as one half of the writer, he represents Golding's unmet goals and partial successes. By way of happy compensation, Arieka represents the other side of the coin, succeeding precisely where Ionides had failed in winning knowledge of herself.

 

Much as Ionides is preoccupied with political control and the state's control mechanisms--brute force, propaganda, publicity spectacle--his most telling failure is a lack of self-control. As greatly as this theme interests Golding as a philosophical and ethical question to be pondered, and as much as it is grounded in the novel's historical time frame, his main interest here lies not in exploring the themes of control and self-control in the abstract but in approaching them from a highly personal point of view. The problem of controlling one's material and, by extension, one's self is, in his view, the central challenge of the artistic experience, as much as controlling one's reputation, the self that exists after death, involves the writer in an attempt to control the critic. Arieka's narrative is thus an inquiry into himself as well as a representation of his struggles to articulate his inner experience. In some sense, The Double Tongue is a sustained exercise in intellectual and spiritual autobiography, an d, as such, a deeply meditated inquiry into the origins and nature of the impulse that produced a dozen fictions. A careful, even prickly, guard of his own privacy, Golding, who had lashed out in The Paper Men against overly curious critics and prying would-be biographers, is here self-revelatory, albeit under two masks.

 

What more appropriate way, however, for a novelist to handle questions about creativity than by donning a mask? The choice of a woman as the novel's narrator and central character, whatever its momentary strangeness given that Golding's writing had been so little concerned with women's issues and leaving aside the gender-determined role of the Pythia, is largely incidental to its basic preoccupations. Divination was historically not gender specific but frequently androgynous, as the hermaphroditic figure of Tiresias exemplifies. Arieka serves, then, as a useful mask to throw a literal-minded reader off the track of Golding himself. Her lack of control over her physical functions, a point made at the outset when she endures incontinence and menstruates for the first time, announces the theme of physical vulnerability, but its specifically feminine character is just as quickly and comically undercut by the inability of Pittacus the donkey to control his erection when he sniffs her blood. Her marginality as a w oman under the control of her father, Anticrates, a typical senex iratus, is historically valid, but emphasized only to be swiftly undermined when the unruly "little barbarian"(9)--such is the supposed meaning of Arieka's name--is elevated to a central role in the male-dominated society of antique Greece. In short, freedom of choice, Golding suggests, is largely illusory anyway: the wind and the gods bloweth where they listeth, and the arbitrary is an essential fact of life, indifferent to constructions of gender.

 

Incongruous a character as Arieka may at first seem for exploring Golding's large themes, she nonetheless serves him well. Her combination of high seriousness, insight, and muddle-headedness establishes, in the earlier parts of the novel, the contiguity of inspiration and comedy. The climactic moment of the novel's first five chapters--the scene of Arieka's rape by Apollo as she takes on her role as Pythia for the first time and is to deliver his answer to a question that two young Romans, Julius Caesar and Metullus Cimber, pose about their respective political futures--is both hedged with solemn ritual and riven by broad comedy. Reviewing her experience, she rightly says, "It's so mixed" (92), and, indeed, at this juncture, Golding mingles truth with contrivance, history with fiction, and wisdom with silliness. The dignified seriousness of his subject is counterpomted with Ionides playing the con artist and Arieka's losing control of her body and tongue. Her "One mouth or the other!" followed by "rollicking laughter" (88) is Golding's irreverent unveiling of the mysteries. His important point is, arguably, that the privilege of creativity (if in fact it is such), while reserved to the few, has little to do with worthiness or unworthiness, a sense of election, or a refined sensibility. The scene demolishes a whole panoply of romantic cliches, and yet in placing his own statements at the center of Delphi, the symbolic world navel, Golding himself performs a feat of meaningful magic, at once undermining and revalidating art and the artist.

 

Having exposed the holy of holies to the reader--his equivalent of God's buttocks to which Ionides has earlier alluded--Golding establishes, in Ionides' careful stage management of the public experience, that art is, indeed, partly a contrivance, a conjuring trick, and, as Arieka blindly gropes her way to the tripod and through the phases that initiate her into her metier, that it is partly a fortuitous accident. The farcical and debunking note tends to predominate; this is mostly a shell game, and Golding's more serious statements about the sources of inspiration are deferred until the novel's conclusion.

 

The oracle, appropriately enough at this juncture, is faked; but it is far from being entirely so, for the point is that inspiration is arbitrary and only partly subject to conscious management. In short, while Golding exposes the artifice and posturing that comprise some aspects of artistic production (the part of Ionides), he nonetheless posits it as a mystery (the part of Arieka).

 

Nor is it incidental that the query posed at this critical moment involves international politics, for by alluding to Julius Caesar's destiny, the text conjoins political and artistic concerns at its center. Caesar's fate is not simply a private question about ambition but a public one about the balance of power and, for Rome, eventually a question about dictatorship or democracy--about control and domination from above or the sharing of power among equals. The scene exposes the ultimate inefficacy of overt and simplistic political art. Ionides' cleverly concocted reply, punning on the names Caesar and Cimber--"There will be a competition and one will be a cut above the other" (89)--is a piece of pure theater that, however flattering to Caesar and historically accurate, exerts no influence on events and is simply a clever and, with hindsight, "inspired" guess.

 Ionides, "the learned mountebank of the gods" (162), is at this stage happily but cynically playing out his role but is self-deceived about its clout. Arieka, on the other hand, who has approached her role as Pythia with trepidation and respect, is now actually invested in it, her struggles making her the god's plaything. In this sense, Ionides is appropriately rewarded: he creates an immediate sensation but is unchanged; Arieka, on the other, is reshaped by her encounter (even physically, by the breaking of her hymen). Of equal weight is her appreciation that "the gods were there!" (93), that the powers that took and used her were to herself, at any rate, embodied and present. Her moment of ecstasy confirms her uncertain belief not only in the Olympian pantheon but also in herself. Not having experienced any sense of special election to fulfill the duties of the Pythia--from her family's and society's point of view she was an expedient choice--Arieka, with some sense of wonder and awe, wins a sense of vocat ion: "I had spoken words and not known I had spoken them. They were the god's words" (97). Indeed, the unconscious lies at the very root of her (and, as Golding has it, his own) experience. The experience itself, while a struggle, is numinous, yielding to articulation only by metaphor--the double tongue--as the literal event and its various meanings separate and conjoin, much as do Arieka and Ionides, Delphi and Athens, Greece and Rome, and the writer and his or her writing.

Golding's incarnation of his own sense of artistic experience and his vocation in prior historical forms--Delphi, the Pythia, the high priest of Apollo--has a dual purpose: while acknowledging his own intellectual inheritance from classical culture, the wholesale borrowing of a metaphoric system from an earlier culture stresses the atemporality and impersonality of art. This, too, is a double-tongued choice. The setting and characters do duty for Greek antiquity while serving to explore the nature of Golding's individual, late-twentieth-century artistic sensibility. Like Eliot and Joyce, Golding finds the classics ineluctable. Their understanding of the imagination and art are definitive in that any later expression is bound to allude to, quarrel with, or repeat what the Greeks have already said about them, much as any mathematician, regardless of his or her branch of mathematics, extends the work of Pythagoras. The multiplicity of Pythias in the novel's opening chapters, the two and eventually the three ladi es, is thus explained. Whatever their individual aspects--the First Lady's conventional blindness, the Second's incongruous obesity--they fulfill a role that others have taken in a long, seemingly uninterrupted line stretching back to the original mythical moment of Apollo's slaying of the python. His taking over the oracle, that instant when a new dispensation was initiated in the relationship between gods and men, is significantly recalled and repeated at the novel's close when the office of the Pythia itself moves toward extinction and renewal in a novel and unexpected shape--that of St. Paul--to serve the new Rome-based mystery religion of Christianity.

 This sense of tradition--and, for that matter, of the individual talent--accounts for some of the novel's most calculated intertextual gestures, from its first teasing words, "Blazing light" (3), recalling the opening of Genesis, to its closing ones, from the New Testament. The opening and closing words thus frame the whole work within a sacred text, not, significantly, from classical antiquity but from the new dispensation that replaced it. By this gesture Golding acknowledges his dual cultural inheritance as an English writer from the classics and the Bible. (9) By it, as well as by his setting, he suggests how the past is never only the past, is always in the process of becoming, shaping the future as new works arise from an originating point that, whatever the dislocations of time and place, like the Pythia constantly withers and is renewed. At the same time, Golding's conclusion points to what, at first sight, appears to be the genuinely new, as the novel leaps forward in time to the Christian era and St. Paul's new god. While it teasingly mingles fiction with history, it projects into the future a work that has prophecy as a major preoccupation. In thus refusing closure, The Double Tongue insists on the continuity and perpetual restatement of its principal concerns and methods. And in alluding in its final sentence to St. Paul--the god-struck visionary who suffered a Pythia-like compulsion to deliver the message of his god--Golding situates his central ideas at the point when the old gods are replaced by new ones that necessarily resemble them, much as postmodernism, rather than breaking altogether with the "isms" that preceeded it, tends to revisit old debates. Finally, Golding concludes that writing, whether taken up with worldly matters or spiritual ones, is always about itself, and, truth to tell, about the writer too.

Notes

 

(1.) The publishers chose the novel's title from among several that Golding had considered. Its opening pages are "what we take to be one of the latest versions" (Faber & Faber i), and at the end of chapter 4 a manuscript passage is missing.

 

(2.) For Miligate, testamentary acts are varied valedictory activities that a writer undertakes to attempt to control posterity's perception and assessment of his or her work.

 

(3.) Golding records his own highly nuanced response to modern and ancient Delphi in his 1967 travel article "Delphi" (reprinted in A Moving Target).

 

(4.) On metanarrative as a major thematic concern in Golding's later fiction, see the essays by Stape and Whiteley.

 

(5.) Knowing full well that the modern status of homosexuals and women signally differs from their positions in Greek society, Golding is deliberately anachronistic in his handling of these topics. Homosexuality and homosociality had major social and even political roles in classical Greece, while women, peripheral in the latter area, were central to its religious practice as well as to the identity of the polis, as witnessed, for example, by the Athena cult at Athens. See Dover's classic study as well as Stewart's more recent discussion of these topics.

 

(6.) Cf. Acts of the Apostles: "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" (17.22-23). The last four words conclude the novel.

 (7.) Green objects that Sappho threw herself off Leuctra not Leukas, that Arieka is not a Greek name, that Corinth was in ruins at the time of the novel, that the name of an actual priest of Apollo (since these are known) should have been used rather than a fictional one, and that Hittite is not identical with Linear A or B. Lefkowitz also objects to the name Arieka and faults Golding's handling of sexuality and religious practice.

(8.) For a brief but illuminating discussion of late-classical representations of the hermaphrodite and an interpretation of their meaning, see Stewart on "Gender Drift and the Bisexual Body" (229-30).

 

(9.) Crompton's discussion of biblical and classical allusion and intertextuality in Darkness Visible offers useful perspectives on Golding's practice here.

 

Works cited

 

Crompton, Donald W. "Biblical and Classical Metaphor in Darkness Visible." Twentieth Century Literature 28.2 (1982):195-215.

 

Dick, Bernard F. William Golding. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

 

Dover, Kenneth J. Greek Homosexuality. 1978. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.

 

Faber & Faber. Publisher's note. The Double Tongue. By Golding. London: Faber, 1995. i-v.

 

Frye, Northrop. An Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

 

Gindin, James. William Golding. London: Macmillan, 1988.

 

Golding, William. "Belief and Creativity" (1980). A Moving Target. London: Faber, 1982. 185-202.

 

-----. Darkness Visible. London: Faber, 1979.

 

-----. "Delphi" (1967). A Moving Target. London: Faber, 1982. 36-43.

 

-----. The Double Tongue. London: Faber, 1995.

 

-----. A Moving Target. London: Faber, 1982.

 

-----. The Paper Men. London: Faber, 1984.

 

-----. Rites of Passage. London: Faber, 1980.

 

-----. To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy. London: Faber, 1991.

 

Green, Peter. "Speaking in the Oracular" Rev of The Double Tongue Washington Post Book World 1 Oct. 1995: 5, 12.

 

Haffenden, John. "William Golding." Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985. 97-120.

 

Hensher, Philip. "Lord of the Unambiguous Statement." Rev, of The Double Tongue. Guardian Weekly 2 July 1995:28.

 

Kaveney, Roz. "Fate in Frocks." Rev, of The Double Tongue. New Statesman and Society 28 July 1995:40.

 

Lefkowitz, Mary. "A Dish for the Gods." Rev, of The Double Tongue. Times Literary Supplement 23 June 1995:25.

 

McCullagh, David Willis. Rev, of The Double Tongue. New York Times Book Review 17 Sep. 1995: 25.

 

McGann, Jerome J. A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983.

 

Millgate, Michael. Testamentary Acts: Browning, Tennyson, James, Hardy. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

 

Stape, J. H. "'Fiction in the Wild Modern Manner': Metanarrative Gesture in William Golding's To the Ends of the Earth Trilogy." Twentieth Century Literature 38.2 (1992): 226-39.

 

Stewart, Andrew. Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

 

Whitely, John S. "'Furor Scribendi': Writing about Writing in the Later Novels of William Golding." Critical Essays on William Golding. Ed. James R. Baker. Boston: Hall, 1988. 176-93.

 

Yourcenar, Marguerite. Memoires d'Hadrien. Paris: Gallimard, 1951.

 J. H. Stape has taught in universities in Canada, France, and the Far East. He has written on Conrad, Forster, Hardy, Woolf, and Angus Wilson and has edited work by Conrad and Woolf for Cambridge and Blackwell, Among current projects are volume 7 of The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad and a critical edition of Lord Jim, both forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
 
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